'You Heard Me'
Very bold fantasy predictions for each team in 2012
"This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us." -- Western Union internal memo, 1876.
"You ain't goin' nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin' a truck." -- Jimmy Denny, manager of the Grand Ole Opry, to Elvis Presley in 1954.
"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." -- Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943.
"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." -- Ken Olson, president, chairman, founder of Digital Equipment Corp, 1977.
"He has a shot at winning (the Giants') 4th receiver role." -- The 2011 ESPN Fantasy Football profile of Victor Cruz.
"Don't quit show business. Who could ever make a living at fantasy football?" -- Pretty much everyone I talked to in 2005.
Most of these examples, and many more, can be found in this piece from Herbert I. London, where the lack of an open mind and the eternity of the Internet have captured forever the embarrassing lessons all these people learned the hard way. As any self-respecting fantasy football player has known for a long time, speaking in absolutes only sets you up to look stupid. Because "never" is a bad word. "Unlikely" is much better.
Just because something is not probable to happen doesn't mean it can't happen. Because as anyone who owned Cruz, Laurent Robinson, Cam Newton or Rob Gronkowski last season will tell you, unlikely is what helps win fantasy football leagues. Or, as Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles and Chris Johnson owners will testify, it also helps you lose them.
"At its fundamental level, fantasy football is all about minimizing risk and giving yourself the best odds to win." -- Matthew Berry, the 2012 Draft Day Manifesto.
Did I just quote myself? You're damn right I just quoted myself. This article is not about following form or being proper and pretty. No, it's messy. It's the exact opposite of smart decision-making, of minimizing risk, of giving yourself the best odds.
In fact, this column is about going against the odds. Long shots. Lottery tickets.
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Generally speaking, there are two types of predictions: likely to happen and unlikely to happen. Different degrees within both, to be sure, but they all boil down to one of the two.
For example; Likely to happen: Drew Brees will throw for at least 4,300 yards and 34 touchdowns, as he has done for each of the last four seasons. Unlikely to happen: With no Sean Payton calling the plays, no more Robert Meachem and pressing too hard to justify his $100 million contract, Brees struggles and falls out of the top 10 of fantasy quarterbacks.
There's a reason Brees is one of the top draft picks year after year. He's actually had at least 4,300 passing yards every season he's been in New Orleans. I have him at No. 6 overall this year, so you know I believe he makes it seven straight seasons in 2012.
But could the second scenario also happen? Of course. Another consistent guy, Philip Rivers, went from averaging 11 interceptions a year over the past three to throwing 20 picks last season, contributing to his fewest touchdown passes since 2007.
You never know.
Our official ESPN fantasy projection for Brees is 4,921 yards and 43 touchdowns. It has been researched, studied, thought about in-depth, and, given Brees' track record, is completely believable and reasonable.
The rest of ESPN's fantasy analysis -- our draft kits, our rankings, podcasts, videos, Fantasy Football Now episodes, even my other columns -- are the same way. You might not agree with the conclusions drawn, but every single thing we offer up, given the full scope of data we have to work with, is likely to happen on some level.
Everything except this. This is my bold predictions column, and the reason they are bold predictions is that they are not likely to happen. Doesn't mean impossible. Just not likely.
Victor Cruz had had some flashy preseason moments in 2010, but injuries and the Giants' depth at wide receiver kept him on the bench. He looked great again in the 2011 preseason, but once again, it was deemed unlikely that he would get on the field in a significant enough manner to get the opportunity to shine, and that his skill, explosive but still raw, would carry him to fantasy stardom.
But, as we found out unlikely doesn't mean impossible.
So my goal in this column is to find things that are fairly unlikely to happen but are still possible. I call it "You Heard Me."
Pretend we are hanging out and I have decided, for once, to put down my phone and actually engage in conversation. It's 12 months ago and I say to you what I said in this exact column last year; "Matthew Stafford will be a top-five fantasy quarterback this year."
And you say, "What? The guy who is always injured?"
And then I say, "You heard me!"
Stafford did in fact finish last season as a top fantasy quarterback and it helped ease the pain of another bold prediction from last year's article: "Michael Vick will play all 16 games."
Anyway, here's how I suggest you use this article, other than as self-help motivation ("Well, my predictions are bad, but they're better than this guy's): The point is not so much to nail impossible predictions, but rather to illuminate some players I have strong feelings about, one way or the other. For example, last year in this column I predicted "Over the second half of the season, Isaac Redman is a top-20 fantasy running back. My thinking: Rashard Mendenhall succumbs to the Curse of 370 (playoff edition)."
That didn't happen, as Redman never got a lot of run. But if you decided to pass on using a top-12 pick on Mendenhall last year as a result of the prediction, you're probably not upset, as Mendenhall finished with the same number of fantasy points as Colt McCoy, falling short of a top-50 finish.
Last year in this space I nailed big seasons for Percy Harvin, Stafford, Willis McGahee, Marshawn Lynch and Aaron Hernandez. Of course, I was also down on Eli Manning and Maurice Jones-Drew and high on guys like Delone Carter, Lance Kendricks and Jacoby Ford. Yeah. They're not all winners, kids. This is very high-risk, high-reward territory we are entering, so please don't put more stock into it than use intended. But as I always say, there is no such thing as a bad pick after Round 12; they should all be lottery tickets at that point.
I've got one prediction for each team and I'm going in alphabetical order:
Arizona Cardinals: Ryan Williams, coming off major surgery and going in the 12th round, finishes as a top-20 fantasy running back. My thinking: I hate Beanie Wells. And I think the Cards do, too. Wells fell into 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, and Williams is a better running back.
Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan throws for over 4,500 yards, 35 touchdowns and is a top-five fantasy quarterback. My thinking: They finally let him throw deep, throw into the red zone, throw to a running back that isn't Michael Turner. Throw throw throw. To Julio Jones. Who is as pure as a baby's smile. Mmm, Julio Jones.
Baltimore Ravens: Torrey Smith catches for 1,300 yards and nine touchdowns. My thinking: He's got the speed and he's got a big-arm quarterback who targets him deep; now they just need to land in his hands. He's the No. 1 target there and my best guess at "Who is this year's Jordy Nelson?" Of course, a better bold prediction would be if I bet I could go an entire article without talking about him.
Buffalo Bills: Fred Jackson finishes the season in the top 10 in the NFL in offensive touches. My thinking: C.J. Spiller is nice and will get some run, but Jackson made this offense hum last year and the Bills will be at their best when the ball is in his hands. Not worried about Spiller playing the spoiler is my main point here, I guess.
Carolina Panthers: Eight touchdowns for Mike Tolbert. My thinking: The Chargers gave it to him in San Diego, Jonathan Stewart is already banged up and maybe Ron Rivera decides, size or no size, that sending the franchise quarterback crashing into the goal line isn't the greatest idea.
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Chicago Bears: Over 3,000 combined yards and 20 touchdowns between Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall, making both top five at their positions. My thinking: Both are studs, of course, so to make this semi-bold, I had to go nuts on the scores, as that's the one argument against them. Think the concerns about Michael Bush are overstated; the Bears didn't give Forte a big payday to have him watch from the sideline. And the hype on Marshall is justified.
Cincinnati Bengals: BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a top-10 fantasy running back. My thinking: He'll get all the carries, teams will be more worried about A.J. Green than him, and if healthy and given how the Bengals run in the red zone, he's a mortal lock for double-digit touchdowns.
Denver Broncos: McGahee is a top-10 fantasy running back. My thinking: What are they gonna do, let Peyton throw it? Oh yeah. Well, when they do, it's a lot less pressure on McGahee, who will have an easier time staying healthy. And they will score a lot more. People don't realize Peyton Manning likes to run the ball when he gets close.
Green Bay Packers: 800 yards and six scores for Randall Cobb. My thinking: You know what happens when you have someone who is crazy fast catching balls thrown to him by Aaron Rodgers? Good things, my friend. Magical things.
Houston Texans: Andre Johnson finishes outside the top 30 at wide receiver. My thinking: I'm cheating because that's exactly what happened last year to currently-going-in-the-second-round Andre Johnson. I know, betting against Johnson's health is not exactly earth-shattering, but what do you want me to do? Dump on Arian Foster? Come on. Plus, I said top 30. He's going in the second!
Indianapolis Colts: Top-15 fantasy running back ... Donald Brown. My thinking: He's a good pass-catcher and all they really have at the position, so expect a lot of carries and dump-offs. They will need to run to set up play action for Andrew Luck.
Kansas City Chiefs: Over 3,000 total yards and 16 touchdowns for Charles and Peyton Hillis combined. My thinking: The smile of a pretty woman, the laugh of a child, an overachieving Brian Daboll running back ... all things I believe in.
Miami Dolphins: 1,000 total yards for Daniel Thomas. My thinking: This team is going nowhere. At some point, the Dolphins have to see what they have in Thomas. Reggie Bush is no guarantee to stay healthy. If Brian Hartline was healthy, it might be something about him. Also thought about Anthony Fasano, as Joe Philbin loves to use his tight ends.
Minnesota Vikings: Harvin is one of fantasy's top two wide receivers. My thinking: I love the stat I've been shouting all summer long. Once Christian Ponder took over, Harvin had 100 touches, 26 more than any other wide receiver over the same time frame.
New England Patriots: Brandon Lloyd is the other top two fantasy wide receiver. My thinking: Deep threat plus Tom Brady plus Josh McDaniels loves him plus defenses having to worry about everyone else equals at least one deep touchdown a game.
New York Giants: David Wilson has the best fantasy season of any rookie running back. My thinking: Ahmad Bradshaw is no iron man when it comes to injury, Wilson's looked great, and I could see Richardson (and, to an extent, Doug Martin) failing because of offensive line woes, etc.
New York Jets: Tim Tebow ends the season as a top-15 fantasy quarterback. My thinking: Sad as it is to say this, he's the Jets' best offensive weapon and if he got the starting gig, he'd run enough to be startable.
Oakland Raiders: Darren McFadden plays all 16 games. My thinking: Hope springs eternal. Thought this was bolder than saying something great about Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey, whom I also like. Or Taiwan Jones, whom I think is the handcuff you want.
Philadelphia Eagles: Vick plays all 16 games. My thinking: Doubling down with McFadden. What could possibly go wrong?
Pittsburgh Steelers: Antonio Brown is a top-10 receiver. And Mike Wallace is outside the top 20. My thinking: Brown was basically top 10 in most NFL receiving categories from Week 7 on, and Wallace was outside the top 30. The holdout helped my cause, not the other way around.
Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks are a top-five fantasy defense. My thinking: A good secondary and six games against the Rams, Cardinals and 49ers are pretty good places to start.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Williams catches for 1,000 yards, making him fantasy relevant again. My thinking: Josh Freeman bounces back and, without the pressure of having to be "the guy" and Vincent Jackson taking a lot of defensive attention, Williams is able to return to the wideout we saw two years ago.
Tennessee Titans: 1,000 yards for Kenny Britt. My thinking: Don't think he gets suspended for very long and, when healthy, he has top-10 wide receiver upside. The Titans are going to be a lot better than folks give them credit for.
Washington Redskins: Garcon is a top 15-wide receiver. My thinking: Ha! Thought I was going RG3 there, didn't you? Well, Garcon has been the most targeted guy in preseason and, according to reports, in practice too. You see how they were taking deep shots against the Colts in their preseason game? They will throw it in Washington this season.
Matthew Berry -- the TMR -- has one last bold prediction. That everyone reading it has a basic understand of reading comprehension and doesn't think these are anything other than bold predictions.
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• Joyner: Underrated PPR WRs for 2012
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• Tight end sleepers for 2012
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• Is Jordy Nelson's TD total repeatable?
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• Expectations for Trent Richardson
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• Brandon Marshall expectations